Mookie Betts batting first has been a fixture during his time with the Dodgers, with the All-Star outfielder making 93 percent of his starts in the regular season and postseason hitting leadoff since joining Los Angeles.
The only exceptions were 11 starts batting second early in 2020 — all against right-handed pitching, with either Max Muncy or Joc Pederson batting first — and 12 games batting third in 2021 after Trea Turner was acquired at the trade deadline. Betts hitting somewhere other than leadoff may or may not happen this year, but it’s at least being considered.
“I think having that discussion is thoughtful, makes sense, given the fact that you don’t expect him to steal bases like he has in the past,” manager Dave Roberts said on Friday, per Bill Plunkett at the Orange County Register. “He’s shown more power, which potentially could have been more production as far as runs batted in. So I think having that discussion is responsible.”
Betts led the Dodgers with a career-high 35 home runs last season, and ranked second in the National League with a .533 slugging percentage. Since joining Los Angeles in 2020, Betts’ .521 slugging percentage ranks 12th in the majors among qualified hitters. He’s one of the best hitters in baseball, but bats relatively rarely with runners on base.
Betts ranked seventh on the Dodgers last year in plate appearances with runners on base (329) and runners in scoring position (131). As a team, 27.4 percent of Dodgers plate appearances in 2022 came with runners in scoring position, compared to just 20.5 percent for Betts. Wanting him up more often in meaningful situations is a reasonable goal.
In the past, it was Betts who preferred to bat leadoff, but that has changed. More from Plunkett:
“I think that was just how the roster was constructed. And at the time I did care,” Betts said of the 2020 experiment. “Now I don’t. Now it’s whatever. I’m to the point where it doesn’t matter.”
Why did that change since 2020?
“Just a year older and my care factor for it is gone,” Betts said. “It is what it is. Just go do whatever he says do and don’t worry about it.”
Amid his resurgent 2022 season, Trayce Thompson bizarrely had reverse splits, hitting just .174/.260/.360 with a 78 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers in the majors after blasting minor league southpaws to the tune of .361/.429/1.028 with seven home runs in the first two months of the year.
Thompson told Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times that he moved further back away from the plate after watching old tape of himself in an effort to improve against fastballs. “Last year, I feel like I got tied up inside a lot,” Thompson told Harris. “I wasn’t able to control that inside part of the zone.”
MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark met with reporters Sunday in Scottsdale, and among the topics discussed were recent complaints of low-spending owners about rising payrolls in the sport.
“The question that should be asked in regards to one team’s payroll versus another, is whether or not that team is making a conscious decision to have its payroll there, or whether it has the ability to increase its payroll,” Clark said, per David Brandt of Associated Press. “The answer is the latter, not the former.”